What is the soul of poetry? The most influential answer was probably suggested by Aristotle, who in his Poetics regarded a particular instance of mimesis as constituting the soul of poetry: the construction of plot which he called mimesis of action, or muthos. However, he used mimesis in several different meanings without distinguishing clearly between them, and through tradition it has been interpreted in many ways and translated into a number of terms which do not always seem to have very much in common. The tremendous influence of his Poetics and the concept of mimesis may in fact be due to this elusiveness
This book sets out to clarify the notion of mimesis in the Aristotelian tradition by demonstrating how interpretations of Aristotle’s Poetics have vacillated between two particularly dominating instances of mimesis, what the author labels mimesis-composition and mimesis-representation. The vocabulary may be the same, but the definition of the soul of poetry may differ substantially depending on which instance dominates at any given time. Since Aristotle’s poetological categories were inspired by those of rhetoric, the study begins with an analysis of Aristotle’s Poetics from a rhetorical point of view. Subsequent chapters then study exemplary reinterpretations of the soul of poetry within the Aristotelian tradition, from Averroës and receptions in the Italian Renaissance and French classicism to the influential launch of the “Fine Arts” by Charles Batteux and his German counterparts, such as Schlegel, in the 18th century. Concluding chapters apply the perspective on issues concerning the aesthetics of the sublime, the symbol and the role of emotions in the system of genres.
The Soul of Poetry Redefined is a significant contribution to, as well as continuation of, one of the most prevalent debates within the reception history of Aristotle’s Poetics. It is important reading for anyone interested in tracing the influential concept of mimesis and its variegated – and often enriching – permutations, from Aristotle to the romantic period.
Mats Malm is Professor of Comparative Literature at the University of Gothenburg.